Monday, June 11, 2007

The Ruthless Rise of Mobster Joey "The Clown" Lombardo

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Tony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

To neighbors, Joseph Lombardo was a beloved family man and respected boys baseball coach in his West Side neighborhood -- "more liked than the priest" in the community, according to one friend.

To the feds, Lombardo is the man who had a factory owner slain in front of the man's wife and 4-year-old son.

To investigators, he's the man who knows no loyalty, signing off on the murders of three close friends.

When he appears in federal court these days, for updates on the trial starting June 19 that could put him in prison until his dying days, he's the wisecracking senior citizen. At 78, he's the oldest of a mostly geriatric bunch of mobsters in what likely will be the last great Outfit trial in Chicago history -- the Family Secrets case.

He's "the Clown," known for his quick wit. When the cops stopped him once in the 1980s, after he fled a gambling raid, he had $12,000 in cash on him and a book filled with jokes. But the wisecracks, investigators say, only mask the brutality of one of the last of the old-time Chicago mobsters.

Interviews with people who have known and investigated Lombardo, as well as a review of thousands of pages of court records and law enforcement documents, reveal the story of the ruthless rise of Lombardo in the Chicago Outfit.

"He was vicious and a killer," said retired FBI Agent Jack O'Rourke. "He was their prime enforcer."

Lombardo has denied hurting anyone. Now behind bars at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, he declined an interview request.

In court in 1983, Lombardo said: "I never ordered a killing, I never OKd a killing, and I never killed a man in my life."

His attorney, Rick Halprin, says his client has never been a mob leader. But investigators say Lombardo was a top mobster for years, thanks to his criminal versatility.

He allegedly went from busting heads and two-bit burglaries to orchestrating a bribe attempt of U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon. He was convicted in that case in the 1980s, as well as another one for skimming millions from Las Vegas casinos for the mob. He allegedly controlled millions of dollars in Teamster pension funds through his friend, insurance magnate Allen Dorfman, and was responsible for getting the skim from Las Vegas casinos to Chicago mob bosses.

As a child, Lombardo never knew such wealth, growing up poor in Depression-era Chicago, one of 11 children, the son of a printer. A graduate of Wells High School, he worked as a paperboy, plucked chickens, shined shoes, loaded boxcars at Union Station for 69 cents an hour and handled room service at the Blackstone Hotel.

He was also quite the athlete, playing on wrestling, basketball, fencing and swimming teams and even taking square-dancing lessons. He found a passion for golf and caddied for top Chicago gangster Jackie Cerone. He was also quite the gin rummy cardshark. But he didn't have to rely on cards for cash. His criminal work was apparently quite profitable, authorities said. In recent years, while Lombardo pleads poverty, his family trust benefitting his ex-wife, son and daughter has sold real estate for millions. Authorities believe the trust was set up to keep the feds from seizing assets.

Lombardo's success was punctuated by violence. He has been a suspect in numerous murders but never convicted. What's more, authorities say, he had control over the most allegedly vicious hit man around, Frank "The German" Schweihs. Schweihs is charged in the Family Secrets case with Lombardo. Schweihs would talk about doing an Outfit killing like he was taking out the garbage, court records show.

Even before Lombardo was a somebody in the Chicago Outfit, he was "the Clown."

It was 1964, and Lombardo was on trial in Chicago with other alleged loan sharks for beating a man who owed the mob money. The case was making headlines, and so was Lombardo. When police took his mug shot, he opened his mouth into a cavernous yawn to stop the cops from getting a good photo of him.

Even then, Lombardo -- then going by a variation of his birth name, Joseph Lombardi -- was referred to in the press as the Clown.

The other notable twist: Lombardo was innocent of the charge. But he was part of a clever plot to scotch the case, authorities said. When police rounded up the loan sharks, they arrested the wrong Joseph Lombardi. At the time, two Chicago gangsters had that name and looked similar. Defense attorneys for the men realized the error but kept silent to spring a trap on prosecutors, authorities said. It worked. When the victim took the stand, he could identify all the defendants as his attackers, all except the Clown.

"Talk about having your jaw drop and your case collapse," said attorney Louis B. Garippo, who prosecuted the case. Lombardo walked out a free man. His fellow mobsters walked too, after a jury acquitted them.

Lombardo's antics would be only his first of many public displays.

After he was arrested in 1980 for leading police on a chase, he left the courthouse one day, past the press corps, hidden behind a newspaper with a peephole cut out for his eyes. He was tripped up, though, as he went through the revolving door.

When Lombardo got out of prison in 1992, the FBI in Chicago began getting strange phone calls from a man identifying himself as Long John Silver. The caller would let agents know when he was going to call through newspaper ads.

The caller provided good info about the Outfit's hierarchy but was anxious to steer agents away from one person -- Lombardo's son, Joseph Jr., whom agents were investigating but never charged. Agents traced the calls as coming from pay phones near Lombardo's home, sources said.

The phone calls never amounted to much, and the agents never proved they were coming from Lombardo. But there was a tantalizing clue. Flip the initials for Long John: you get J and L. Short for Joseph Lombardo? Lombardo could pull that stunt, agents figured.

To get into the Chicago Outfit as a made member -- to have the full rights of membership -- a candidate must murder for the mob. Lombardo's qualifying kill was allegedly the 1965 hit of mob associate and hotel owner Manny Skar, according to court records. Lombardo allegedly shadowed Skar for two days before Skar was killed as he exited his car to enter his apartment on Lake Shore Drive.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Lombardo was on the move, wearing multiple hats for the Outfit and allegedly signing off on the murders of three close friends.

The first was in 1974 -- the slaying of businessman Daniel Seifert. Seifert ran a fiberglass business in the suburbs and was an unwitting front for Lombardo. Lombardo and Seifert were so close that Lombardo baby-sat Seifert's kids. But when the feds came calling and Seifert decided to cooperate, Lombardo decided his friend had to go, authorities charge. On Sept. 27, 1974, Seifert was gunned down outside his Bensenville factory as his wife and 4-year-old son watched. With Seifert dead, the charges against Lombardo evaporated. Lombardo is charged in connection with Seifert's murder in the Family Secrets case along with racketeering.

The next to go was insurance magnate Allen Dorfman, who went on Hawaii golf vacations with Lombardo. Lombardo was close to Dorfman, a clout-heavy insurance broker. Lombardo and Dorfman allegedly schemed to control the Teamsters' pension funds, which loaned millions to build Vegas casinos.

Lombardo would allegedly muscle people for Dorfman.

In one conversation, secretly tape-recorded by the feds, Lombardo spoke to mob lawyer and casino investor Morris Schenker, who wasn't coming up with the money Dorfman believed Schenker owed the Outfit.

"Now, it's getting to the point now where you either s - - - or get off the pot," Lombardo said to Schenker, who was 72 at the time of the 1979 conversation. "If they come back and tell me to give you a message and if you want to defy it, I assure you that you will never reach 73," Lombardo said.

Schenker died of natural causes. Dorfman did not, getting gunned down in 1983 in Lincolnwood after Outfit leaders worried he'd turn stool pigeon.

Three years later, another Lombardo friend, mob killer Anthony Spilotro, was beaten to death along with his brother, Michael. Lombardo allegedly oversaw Spilotro, who was the Outfit's man in Las Vegas. The Spilotros and Lombardo were close. Their families came over on the same boat from Italy.

In the end, though, Anthony Spilotro had to die, Outfit leaders decided. He was causing too much heat in Vegas, including taking out a contract on an FBI agent.

The Spilotro brothers were lured to a Bensenville area home on the ruse they were getting promotions. Instead, when they went down to the basement, several mobsters surrounded them and beat them to death. They were buried in an Indiana cornfield.

In recent years, Lombardo has kept a low profile. He has been seen hanging out more at the Italian restaurant La Scarola than with other mobsters.

His defense -- unique but possibly workable -- is that he has moved away from the mob life.

In short, he's retired.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

3 comments:

  1. May GOD have mersey on you Joey

    ReplyDelete
  2. God does have mercy on you Uncle and on my Dad F too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I know God has mercy on you Uncle and Dad F too.

    ReplyDelete